SLS Mobile Launcher on the roll
On the 24th day of July 1965, at NASA's Kennedy space Center, a crawler transporter moved and Apollo Mobile Launcher for the first time. In this first test the crawler transporter moved the Mobile Launcher exactly 1,749 yards. At that point the test was stopped to allow evaluation of the move. In the days that followed technicians discovered pieces of steel and, more importantly, pieces of brass laying along the crawlerway. The discovery of these metal fragments led to the discovery of 14 tapered roller bearings that had been damaged on the crawler itself. This unexpected damage stopped all testing and left the crawler transporter and the Mobile Launcher parked on the crawlerway until further notice.
In short order the problem found its way into the news media. For the first time widespread doubts concerning the Apollo program began to sprout from Florida to Washington DC. Even the iconic Walter Cronkite spoke about it on his evening newscast as he told his audience that the crawler transporter and Mobile Launcher were sitting on wooden blocks under the Florida sun and no one was sure if they would ever move again. Of course the problems were solved, the crawler transporters did move again and the three Mobile Launcher’s served the United States space program for the next four and one half decades supporting Apollo, Skylab, ASTP and finally- as Fixed Service Structures- two of them tended to the Space Shuttle.
With the conception of the Constellation program NASA determined that a new generation of Mobile Launcher was needed. Construction of the new Mobile Launcher began with delivery of the first major components to KSC in February of 2009. This new 390 foot tall mobile launcher was intended to support the Aries I launch vehicle. On February 1, 2010, however, the Obama administration sent to Congress its FY2011 budget proposal which contained no funding for the Constellation program. With that the Ares launch vehicles and all related hardware were subsequently defunded. Yet the contract for the construction of the Mobile Launcher remained running and the launcher was basically completed by August 2010. Then there it sat, outside of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) having no vehicle to support until the Congress could undo the Obama FY2011 NASA budget proposal.
Much like Cronkite back in 1965 many in the current news media attempted to make an example of the Constellation Mobile Launcher in order to call into question the future of NASA's human spaceflight program. One very popular commentator, who is a friend of mine, made a habit of asking guests what they thought about that "B.W.M. (Big Waste of Money) out there sitting by the VAB." This would seed some conversation concerning NASA's human spaceflight program and its future. Of course in today's modern news media spicy conversation often trumps reasonable examination. The fact is that supposed big waste of money actually could not become a big waste of money until it was actually scrapped. With that in mind the United States Congress was determined that in its rebuke of the Obama FY2011 NASA budget they would protect as much of the money invested in the Constellation program as possible. Those "sunk costs" included hardware such as the new Mobile Launcher.
In the summer of 2011 the information came out that NASA planned to use the Constellation Mobile Launcher as the mobile launcher for the new Space Launch System. A reasonable examination of the Mobile Launcher finds that although the structure outwardly looks like a complete launch tower it is in fact little more than a framework. None of the critical equipment that would make it vehicle specific has yet been installed. Thus, the new Mobile Launcher can easily be adapted to almost any launch vehicle. By way of this reasonable examination NASA has now breathed new life into the Mobile Launcher and successfully pulled some $238 million out of the Obama administration’s wastebasket. Now, along with the revival of the Orion spacecraft and other Constellation hardware, some $500 Billion in taxpayer sunk costs have been recovered.
Just after 10:00 am on the 16th day of November 2011 a crawler transporter lifted and moved a Mobile Launcher and its Launch Umbilical Tower for the first time since the early 1980s. At that familiar snail’s pace so often seen as the crawler transporters move spaceflight hardware, the new Mobile Launcher was taken out to Lunch Complex 39B. In testing reminiscent of the early days of Apollo the Mobile Launcher was being run through a series of compatibility tests and checks. After two weeks on the pad the Mobile Launcher was again lifted and slowly rolled back to its parking place near the VAB. Although overlooked by most in the media this simple test was a symbolic milestone in the process of undoing the Obama administration’s myopic cancellation of America's program to return to the moon. As I write this, I'm looking at my computer screen and watching by way of the Internet while a half a billion tax payer dollars are rescued from the Obama administration's waste-can as the new Mobile Launcher rolls smoothly along the crawlerway at the Kennedy Space Center.
What was once condemned as a "BWM" is now back on track to become a critical piece of hardware in America's effort to explore space beyond low Earth orbit.
Posted by Wes Oleszewski at 10:54 AM